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Bulls Fail to hit Shot Heard 'round the Spectrum
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 14
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Well, Ben Gordon got his last shot.
It wasn’t clear if it planned that way, and it didn’t work. Though it came awfully close, not unlike most of this disheartening mini Bulls road trip than ended 0-3 with Friday’s 104-101 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Derrick Rose got one that seemed like it could be as well, though it wasn’t the one that was supposed to be, said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro
Both failed, and with Miami’s double overtime Dwyane Wade thriller Monday and Gordon’s lean in, falling down three that could have tied the game at the buzzer but rattled in and out, the Bulls fell to 29-37 (10-26 on the road) in this backwards march to the playoffs.
Though the Bucks, Bobcats and Nets also lost Friday, leaving the Bulls effectively tied with the Bucks for the final playoff spot with the Knicks, Nets and Bobcats a half game behind and the Pacers one and a half games back.
The leading Bucks, by percentage points over the Bulls, are on a 36-win pace, suggesting any team from that group playing .500 ball the rest of the season probably will be the one to make the playoffs.
I liked what Kenny Smith, the TNT broadcaster, said about the race. He likened it to the Michael Jackson moonwalk dance. You know, sliding backward as you try to go forward.
“Turnovers killed us,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, short and somewhat curt with reporters afterward in showing mounting frustration. “We fought back, but we came up short again. We just didn’t execute.”
It’s not like games like this are only decided by a last shot or sequence. But it’s as good a place as any to start in a curious fourth quarter in which Del Negro stayed with a rotation he hasn’t played all season of Brad Miller, Tim Thomas, Kirk Hinrich, Derrick Rose and John Salmons. Though it was that group who rallied the Bulls from trailing 82-69 early in the fourth quarter with five threes, three by Tim Thomas, to tie the game at 88 with 7:16 left.
And there’s that thing about going with the guys who brought you there. It’s not unusual among coaches.
With about 90 seconds left Gordon did enter the game for Tim Thomas, and ended up hitting a three to tie the game at 101 with 36 seconds left. And then Gordon was back in seconds later in a defense/offense switch with Joakim Noah and had his potential overtime producer hit back rim and front rim and then skip out.
”I thought I had a pretty good look at the end,” said Gordon, who had nine points and played just 27 minutes. ”It was a desperation shot.”
Gordon shouldn’t even have gotten it off as the 76ers, down three with under five seconds left and Gordon dribbling, failed to foul Gordon, and just after he had tied the game with that three.
Gordon had gotten the ball in the backcourt and dribbled up the left side, where Andre Iguodala picked him up. But then he released Gordon as Gordon circled right and Willie Green got in front of Gordon. Gordon pump faked, and then shot leaning in and it actually looked good before bouncing out.
It was another oh so close one that had Del Negro apparently offering expletives of exasperation, according to witnesses in the old Spectrum, which was hosting a basketball game for the last time before being demolished for a shopping complex.
The 76ers used the occasion to bring back several members of their 1967 and 1983 championships teams and play on the same floor as they used in 1983, though reconditioned. The night started with a lavish show of introductions, and community favorite Julius “Dr. J” Erving challenging the new 76ers to “take care of the Chicago Bulls like we used to.”
Maybe before Michael Jordan arrived since this was an amazing place for those championship Bulls teams and Jordan as Jordan had more scoring anniversaries in the Spectrum than any other NBA arena, scoring his 5,000th, 10,000th and 15,000th points there as well as some even numbered milestones in the 20’s. It seemed every time Jordan set some sort of record it was there, always to the chagrin of 76ers management.
Because they were the only team in 1984 trying to get Jordan. Everyone, including the Bulls, was doing everything they could, including virtually throwing games which led directly to the creation of the NBA lottery, to get a chance to draft Hakeem (then Akeem) Olajuwon. The 76ers were coached by North Carolina’s Billy Cunningham then with Dean Smith the unofficial advisor. They may have been the only ones who realized then what Jordan could be. They ended with the fifth pick and took Charles Barkley, and then immediately tried to trade Barkley and half the roster for Jordan. At least the Bulls didn’t do that.
And Jordan continued to show at least their perspicacity.
But Friday it was a Philadelphia night in many ways as the Bulls, led by Derrick Rose’s 20 points, felt twisted like a pretzel by the time it was done, and as messy as a cheese steak at Pat’s. Brad Miller even engaged in some banter with the sideline fans and quickly fell victim to profane chants.
Which, I guess, Del Negro continued.
It was another of those so called big games, which we’ll call all of these from now on.
The 76ers were seventh in the East and now at 32-31 were able to move well ahead of the group fighting for eighth with a 2-1 season lead over the Bulls with one game between them left in Chicago. With a huge conference record tiebreaker edge, the Bulls now seem to have almost no chance to do better than a shot at that eighth spot in the East.
It is a season slipping sadly away.
And the last moments of another thrilling finish only added to the frustration.
The Bulls led 23-22 after one Noah, who was finishing better and had 13 points and nine rebounds despite only a few seconds in the fourth quarter, was diving on the pick and roll nicely. Hinrich gave the team an offensive burst when he came in and Tyrus Thomas continued his block streak at 27 and added two steals.
The 76ers pulled ahead 50-47 at halftime, and the Bulls moved back on top when Rose beat the traps the 76ers kept throwing at him for a vicious two handed slam, Noah drove and scored on a running back as his offensive play became more aggressive and Rose drove left for a bank shot and 67-65 lead.
But the Bulls scored just two points for the last 5:41 of the third, missing 10 of 11 shots and falling victim to a late 76ers trap for a turnover as Iguodala exploded and the 76ers took an 80-69 lead into the fourth quarter and ran by the Bulls group that included Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Noah, Salmons and Hinrich.
But in the midst of that run of threes to open the fourth, Rose added a highlight reverse driving score and suddenly the Bulls were back in it.
After the Bulls tied it at 88, Tim Thomas’ shooter went blank and the game swayed back and forth.
Samuel Dalembert, with a ridiculous 19 rebounds and four blocks, including two big ones late on Rose, faded along the baseline after a miss and hit a short jumper. We know he can’t shoot, though Miller dared him too much by not even putting up a hand. Rose then put a beautiful stop and go move on Andre Miller to tie the game at 94 with 3:47 left, and Salmons, with 14 points on an off shooting night back in Philadelphia, gave the Bulls their last lead with two free throws after being fouled on a nice backdoor bounce pass from Miller out of a timeout.
It was a good play out of the timeout, though costly in the end as Del Negro used all his timeouts and was left without one when the Bulls got the ball back down three with 16 seconds left.
After that 96-94 Bulls lead, the Bulls remained in the zone they played most of the end of the game and Thaddeus Young, who had a game high 31, put a terrific back screen on Tim Thomas as the 76ers obviously guessed the Bulls would be in that zone out of the timeout. The Bulls usually go to a zone coming out of timeouts. Andre Iguodala, who had 25, dove in behind the pinned Thomas for a slam dunk and tie at 96.
Thomas then missed
a second straight three and Rose drove and was blocked by Dalembert, leading to a runout and foul of Andre Miller, who made one of two for a 97-96 lead.
The Bulls transition defense was awful most of the game as the Bulls let the outside shooting challenged 76ers outscore them in fast breaks 18-10. And once again an opponent shot well above 50 percent. The 76ers generally ran out when a guard penetrated, and with Tim Thomas and Miller in, the Bulls had difficulty covering back as the other guards usually fan into the corners when Rose in driving.
Tim Thomas then missed on a wild drive, and Miller ran out again and was fouled and
hit two free throws for a 99-96 lead with 1:32 left.
You knew by now this was coming down to the end in a game with 16 lead changes and 13 ties.
To this point in the game, Gordon had yet to even attempt a three when he returned for the first time in the fourth quarter.
Brad Miller fooled the 76ers by going too slow on a drive and scoring to pull the Bulls within 99-98 with 1:19 left.
Iguodala, setting up again on the left wing, beat Hinrich and Rose to the basket for a layup for a 101-98 76ers lead, and then the Bulls got lucky and it looked like maybe they’d steal one. Gordon dribbled left and had the ball stripped and picked it up and passed to Salmons, who also had the ball stripped and then shot a weak jumper barely grazing the rim. But Brad Miller stepped inside for a terrific offensive rebound and found Gordon on top for a tying three with 36 seconds left.
Iguodala then took Hinrich into the left post again and spun and was fouled coming across to a reverse. He made one of two for a 102-101 lead and the Bulls called their final timeout with 22 seconds left.
Who takes the last shot in close games and should has been an issue of late with the Bulls, so it became something of a sport to watch the decision making and outcome.
Del Negro said the play was set for a high screen/roll, the Bulls main play. But Hinrich had trouble getting the ball in. With time going, he passed in to Brad Miller, who handed to Rose, and Rose darted inside Andre Miller and got Dalembert on his hip as he went down the lane. Rose pumped and went up, but Dalembert got the block. Iguodala recovered and threw full court to Young.
“He’s a shot blocker. That’s what he’s supposed to do,” said Rose. “I tried to attack the basket and get fouled. Just try to attack the hole.”
Young was alone and apparently considered pulling the ball out with about 10 seconds left, but made the layup.
And then came Gordon dribbling up into the three that almost went.
“It wasn’t the play we needed to run,” said Del Negro of the Rose drive. “We wanted to high screen and roll. Derrick had an opening and we didn’t convert.”
“I just missed a shot,” said Rose. “I’ve got many games to hit shots like that. It’s early in my career. I can’t do anything but learn from it and get better from it. I’m just looking to the next game.”
Which is New Orleans in the United Center Saturday with MVP candidate Chris Paul. Then Boston Tuesday with MVP candidate Paul Pierce, and the Lakers next Saturday with MVP candidate Kobe Bryant.
That’s why the ones like Friday hurt so much more and lead more than just the Philadelphia fans to exasperation.